The new NFL league year started with a bang for the New England Patriots as they completely reshaped their roster while dishing out over $275 million in maximum money to do so.
With the first week of free agency now in the rearview mirror, the Patriots do not look anywhere near from being finished either. As of Wednesday afternoon, New England still had over $11.5 million in cap space. If Bill Belichick has another splash or two left in him, cap space can be found by cutting Top-51 players such as Matt LaCosse or Danny Vitale. A trade or restructure of a player like Stephon Gilmore could also be completed to free up some cap.
Perhaps Belichick’s best upcoming move could come in late April during the NFL Draft. New England is currently slated to pick 15th overall, but an aggressive trade-up to take their next franchise signal caller might not be a surprise.
So, that raises the question: Where do Belichick and the Patriots go from here? Let’s take a look:
@TeamCrazyMatt Seems NE added their second-wave guys (Godchaux, Bourne) while adding their first-wave guys. Who else is left on the market that BB might reasonably (scratch that, “reasonably” went out the window this offseason) snap up? #PostPulpit
My first answer was resigning Lawrence Guy. But while typing this it was announced Guy is finalizing a new four-year deal with the Patriots. Great minds think alike.
So, looking at other options, plenty of household names remain left on the market. New England will certainly explore options for another quarterback if they do not plan on drafting one, but they might be done in free agency overall. After Guy’s new contract, the Patriots current 90-man roster sits at 80 players. They also have 10 draft picks and will look to add undrafted free agents as usual. The Patriots will have some roster shakeup over the next month before the draft, but it may just be players leaving rather than entering.
@mlip130 Do the pats go after Melvin Ingram and get him or another pass rusher
While it’s tough to see the Patriots making many more major additions before the draft, Belichick will certainly add a player if he feels the price is right. As for Ingram or another pass rusher, the Patriots depth at the linebacker and edge positions seems quite deep at the moment. Perhaps if they were to add at the position it would come in the mid- to later-rounds of the NFL Draft.
I just want to point out, the Patriots' linebacker depth is absolutely absurd right now.— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) March 24, 2021
Kyle Van Noy
After watching last season, we know you can never have enough depth at the position, but the Patriots seem to be in a strong spot going forward.
@BrianCo84 With Chung retirement, is Kyle Dugger ready for a full time gig?
The Chung retirement will certainly open up a larger role for second-year safety Kyle Dugger. Dugger is one of the many versatile options the Patriots have on the backend (Adrian Phillips, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills). Throughout his rookie season, Dugger was extremely impressive against the run, even lining up as an outside linebacker in the Patriots’ 4-2 defensive structure.
He showcased his ability to get off blocks while also flashing a violent side of his game, even when rushing the passer.
Highest run stop rates among rookie DBs:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 5, 2021
1. Kamren Curl - 6.9%
2. Jeffrey Okudah - 5.3%
3. Kyle Dugger - 5.2% pic.twitter.com/UMo62rqHBl
As for taking over full-time for Chung, Dugger wasn't perfect in pass coverage last season. He often appeared to play slower than usual, most likely due to lack of experience. Perhaps New England uses Mills in more of coverage situations while allowing Dugger to roam the middle of the field. Either way, a second and full offseason in the system should allow him to overcome some of these issues and play up to his top speed. Going forward, Dugger should be even better for the Patriots this upcoming season.
@cody_adams225 Will the patriots acquire a true #1 receiver?
After the signings of Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, I would be surprised to see the Patriots get aggressive and acquire a No. 1 wide receiver before the draft. The wide receivers on the roster and the combination of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith is more than enough to terrorize opponent defenses. New England’s offense will most likely be built around 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), while allowing Agholor to stretch the field as the “X” receiver.
However, it would not surprise me to see the Patriots draft a receiver early in this year’s draft. If one of the consensus top three receivers (Jaylen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith) were to fall to pick No. 15, New England should absolutely add them to the group. Even if they do not last, a player like Amon-Ra St. Brown or Amari Rodgers would be great additions in the second round. Either player would give the Patriots a versatile and electric receiver out of the slot.
@ChrisHelmick7 After last week’s acquisitions, who do you think they target in the first round of the draft?
All the moves the Patriots have made so far lead to one thing: making an aggressive move for a quarterback. New England has built a dynamic, quarterback-friendly offense while completely remodeling the front seven of their defense. The Patriots filled nearly every hole they had on this team and, as we mentioned earlier, already have 80 players on their 90-man roster. All the signs seem to point towards Belichick and Co. getting aggressive and the draft and moving up to draft a quarterback.
Now, just because that is the plan doesn't automatically mean it will work. There have been numerous reports that the top four quarterbacks (Trevor Lawerence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance) could all come off the board within the first four picks of the draft, while Mac Jones would not be too far behind. With plenty of quarterback-needy teams in front of the Patriots on the draft board, they would have to up their offer even more than what a package might start at.
If a player like Justin Fields or Trey Lance did end up slipping into the 6-8 range, the Patriots would easily be able to move up by packaging pick No. 15, 96 and next year’s first-round selection — if they had no other competition.
If the plan is for New England to move up and draft a quarterback, Newton would be a great mentor for the young signal caller. Newton was praised by both his teammates and coaching staff last year for his leadership and work ethic — even being named a team captain his first season. Newton starting the season while grooming a rookie quarterback would be the perfect game-plan for the Patriots this season, especially if that rookie quarterback is Justin Fields or Trey Lance.
It’ll be an exciting for week’s the Patriots leading up to the draft, so buckle up and enjoy.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!